A group of US Senators have banded together to pen an open letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), demanding that the two organizations join forces and investigate the sale of cell phone users' location data.
The letter details findings regarding the unauthorized gathering and sale of users' location data on the part of various mobile phone carriers in the United States, pointing in particular to a recent investigation by Motherboard that revealed anybody who's willing to pay enough can obtain a user's location data.
The gathering and sale of mobile device users' location data without their knowledge and consent has been a hot button issue for quite some time now. The issue got to such a point that Google actually stepped up and demanded that T-Mobile and Sprint refrain from selling the location data of Project Fi subscribers.
Amid a sea of negative press coverage, many carriers caved and made public statements claiming that they would stop the practice. For a while, this seemed to pacify most of the bad reports. These claims weren't quite enough for some, however, and an independent investigation into the practice revealed that carriers were not only continuing to sell your location data, but the practice was not even limited to trusted parties. Anybody could pay up and have your location data.
The US Government called on the FCC to meet up and discuss the issue. There were plans for FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai and others to talk about the root of the issue, what could be done about it immediately, and how to prevent it going forward. Chairman Pai, however, refused to meet and talk as requested due to the government shutdown, which is part of what prompted the open letter in question.
With the way the mobile market and its gaggle of regulating bodies is currently structured, the FCC and FTC are the two bodies who would be best suited for this task. Since the government is still shut down for now, it's anybody's guess as to whether they will actually leap into action right now, or wait until the smoke clears. If the FCC and FTC are goaded, or perhaps forced, to act, it will likely be a swift gesture.
Regardless of what happens during the shutdown, once it's over, the FCC and FTC will likely be prompted to investigate and do something about this dismaying carrier practice. This investigation and action could take many forms. Carriers may receive a figurative slap on the wrist in the form of small fines, the responsible government departments could come out swinging with business injunctions until the practice is stopped, or company leaders could be brought up on criminal charges, to name just a few possibilities.
The FCC and FTC have yet to respond to this letter, but considering Pai's past stance on the matter, it is possible the FCC might refuse to do anything this time. Although the FTC Commissioner, Joseph Simons might chose a different approach and that in turn could affect the FCC's decision.